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CEBU CITY, Philippines – Sunday’s presidential debate in Cebu earned mixed reactions from the local business sector.
While the debate provided a glimpse into the candidates’ character, the business community said it would have been better if arguments were focused on the various problems of the country.
“Sunday night’s debate provided a great opportunity for the voters to have a glimpse into the kind of leadership style that each candidate has,” said Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Melanie Ng.
However, the chamber president said that although the debate provided “an interesting and entertaining time for the voters, it would have been better if more arguments were focused on the various problems besetting our country and affecting the lives of Filipinos and what each candidate will specifically do as part of their platform or agenda rather than on the different personalities of the candidates.”
“Our country’s problems are not simple. It requires a holistic approach to solve each and every problem. A more detailed discussion on various platforms would provide a better way for us to choose the right leader we need for our country,” said Ng.
But what she liked about the second round of the debate, although delayed for more than an hour, was that some candidates provided data to support their arguments.
Four presidential candidates – Vice-President Jejomar Binay, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Senator Grace Poe, and Secretary Mar Roxas – graced the second round of presidential debates in Cebu last Sunday, March 20, at the University of the Philippines Cebu. Senator Miriam Santiago, meanwhile, skipped the debate as she was to undergo a clinical trial for an anti-cancer pill.
For his part, Cebu Business Club president Gordon Alan Joseph said the debate was a “good exercise in Philippine democracy.”
“It was also very revealing. For the first time ever, there was truth very apparent beneath the campaign and political rhetoric. Unfortunately, the overall level of debate to my mind was very disappointing. I struggled to stay tuned to the TV. To my mind, it was very ugly – but at least the truth is bubbling to the surface,” said Joseph.
According to Joseph, the main issues that rose during the debate were corruption; the need for effective managers for our economy, leaders who can plan and execute what is needed to build on the gains of this administration; and a thirst for order and for the rule of law.
“I just wish that the level of debate or discussion was on a higher plane than last Sunday’s. It was clear that everyone wanted to do demolition jobs on each other as the main debate technique, particularly Binay and Duterte, although Poe and Roxas were less obvious,” he said.
From his observation, Joseph said Binay fared the worst in the debate. “He looked frail, unsure of himself and he looked like he didn’t want to be there. It
looked like he felt he had no moral authority and that may be understandable with all the corruption charges he and his family are facing.”
As for Duterte, Joseph observed that “his main line seems to be that he is the toughest guy in the room and is willing to kill people to bring order to the Philippines.”
“This is disconcerting if not frightening and I can’t help but think that there are more progressive ways to govern the Philippines. I like to think, too, that the Filipino can be governed fairly, and without violence,” he noted.
Poe, according to Joseph, was probably the “best debater and she was quite impressive.” He wished, though, that she had waited for another 6 years before running.
“Roxas was probably the most consistent debater, although he sounded generic and repetitive at times. That this government has achieved substantial gains is true, but we have, once again, fallen short of overall targets and the Philippines is still not a better place to live or an easier or more competitive place to do business for foreign investors inspite of credit rating improvements (which are significant gains nonetheless),” said Joseph, a co-chairperson of the Metro Cebu Development Coordinating Board.
While she is satisfied with the debate’s format, former-president of CCCI Maria Teresa Chan said some topics discussed during the debate were old issues or those which have been already discussed in other fora. (READ: Cebu debate: Education, health on agenda, but not discussed)
What caught her attention, though, was how Davao City Mayor Duterte would eliminate drugs and corruption in 6 months.
“I think he was not able to address the reporter’s question or observation the fact that after ruling Davao for 20 years, there are still more than 50% of the barangays that are drug-infested. How can he eliminate it for the whole country and in 6 months? Also, his formula for big-time drug lords is to leave Davao. How will he do it for the Philippines?” said Chan.
Senator Poe and Vice President Binay’s argument over the former’s citizenship also caught Chan’s interest, as well as Mayor Duterte’s question on how Poe will protect the country’s national sovereignty from foreign threats.
“While Senator Poe said we should strengthen our navy and military to prepare for China, Duterte should have followed up with, ‘how strong is strong to match China’s capability? Do we have the financial capability to match? And which budget will she cut?’” said Chan.
Philexport Cebu executive director Fred Escalona, meanwhile, favors Vice President Binay’s proposed income tax exemption for workers with wages P30,000 and below.
“I agree that corporate tax of 30% and individual tax of 31% should be brought down to around 21 to 25%. It is a good start. We need to be competitive versus our Asean brothers,” said Escalona.
Asked if he was satisfied with the debate, Escalona said it was a total disappointment.
“TV 5 did not manage the debate well especially on the question and answer portion,” he said. “But the issues were all okay. I would have loved to hear individual opinions on divorce, though,” said Escalona.
While the debate exposed the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses the next 49 days are crucial for them to earn real solid votes from their supporters.
For Joseph, the next Philippine president should be “ideally relatively honest (it is hard to expect 100% honesty in the Philippine political scene) and an effective and knowledgeable planner, who can also execute policies and plans quickly and cleanly.”
“I like the highlight on leadership and the call to bring decency to the presidency. Our country needs an honest, hardworking, experienced, and decent leader as president,” said Ng. – Rappler.com